Officials recognize Defense Support Program at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force
By Rob Bardua, National Museum of the U.S. Air Force
/ Published December 01, 2010
DAYTON, Ohio -- Military and industry officials recently gathered at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force to recognize those involved with Defense Support Program satellites over the past four decades.
Earlier this year, a 35-foot-long DSP structural test vehicle, which helped to provide the Air Force with early warning of ballistic missile launches or above ground nuclear detonations, was placed on display in the museum's Missile & Space Gallery. DSP structural test vehicles are full-sized units used to verify that all the components fit together correctly.
"For 40 years, the Defense Support Program satellites and their dedicated operators and support team have safeguarded our nation with an unblinking eye of missile warning protection and therefore it is an extremely fitting tribute that this cold warrior be enshrined in the Air Force's national museum," said Col. Chance Saltzman, Commander of the 460th Operations Group, which operate DSP satellites in space.
According to National Museum of the U.S. Air Force Director, Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Charles D. Metcalf, the DSP exhibit is an important addition to the museum's Missile & Space Gallery.
"As the museum continues to add artifacts and exhibits to tell the story about the Air Force's role in space, the DSP structural test vehicle will help millions of people from around the world to learn about the vital role that these satellites provide for national security," said Metcalf.
In response to the growing threat from nuclear armed Soviet and Chinese ballistic missiles in the 1960s, the U.S. Air Force developed the DSP in great secrecy to replace the space-based infrared Missile Defense Alarm System.
The Air Force placed each of the DSP satellites into orbit with a variety of launch platforms. A Titan IIIC rocket carried the first DSP satellite, into orbit on Nov. 6, 1970. Weighing 2,000 pounds, it contained 2,000 infrared detectors that could identify the thermal radiation from rocket engine exhaust plumes of intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The sixteenth satellite was carried into space aboard NASA's Space Shuttle Orbiter Atlantis in November 1991. The twenty-third and final DSP satellite was launched in December 2007, and weighed almost 5,300 pounds and could accommodate 6,000 detectors.
Over the years, DSP satellites underwent numerous advancements to improve their survivability and accuracy, and added the capability to identify nuclear explosions in support of test ban monitoring.
After the Cold War ended, DSP satellites demonstrated additional flexibility. They detected Iraqi Scud missile launches during Operation Desert Storm, and scientists used their infrared sensors as part of an early warning system for natural disasters like volcanic eruptions and forest fires.
"DSP was one of the most successful space programs in U.S. history, performing well on cost, schedule, satellite longevity, and most importantly, mission success," said David Zabalaoui, acting Vice President of Business Development for the Space Systems Division of Northrop Grumman Corp., which built all 23 of the missile warning satellites.
According to Col. Roger W. Teague, Director of the Infrared Space Systems Directorate at the Space and Missile Systems Center, Los Angeles, AFB Calif., which manages the DSP, the credit for the success of the program belongs to the people who built, operated and managed the satellite.
"I am very proud of proud of the men and women who have supported the DSP program," said Col. Teague. "The DSP Team should be justifiably proud of the tremendous capabilities that have been developed, fielded and sustained over the years, and the team continues to be proactive and innovative with sustainment techniques to maintain our edge as we usher in the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) constellation."
But even as SBIRS is brought on-board, the mission of DSP satellites still continues on today, said Col. Saltzman.
"We have no desire to take any of those (DSP) systems offline as SBIRS comes into being," said Saltzman. "Despite exceeding their designed life-span four times over, DSP satellites will soldier on, operating alongside their successors."
The National Museum of the United States Air Force is located on Springfield Street, six miles northeast of downtown Dayton. It is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day). Admission and parking are free.
NOTE TO PUBLIC: For more information, contact the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at (937) 255-3286.
NOTE TO MEDIA: For more information, contact Rob Bardua at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force Public Affairs Division at (937) 255-1386.